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The US thanks Romania for letting its leader quit NATO leadership race to pave the way for Rutte

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Friday thanked Romania for its president withdrawing from the race to lead NATO, saying the move would keep the Western military alliance firmly focused.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken delivered the message to his Romanian counterpart Luminița-Teodora Odobescu. Their meeting Friday at the Foreign Ministry took place just a day after the Romanian president Klaus Iohannis dropped out of the race for NATO’s top job, paving the way for outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Blinken said he was “grateful” for Iohannis’ leadership in the alliance, though he did not specifically mention the race to become NATO’s next secretary general.

“Romania has played a critical role in ensuring that the alliance focuses wherever it needs to focus, including on our eastern flank,” Blinken told Odobescu. “We are grateful for that. I am grateful to President Iohannis and his leadership to ensure the alliance is appropriately focused.”

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Two US officials said Washington was pleased with Iohannis’ decision to withdraw, suggesting it was a sign that Romania is taking its alliance responsibilities seriously. Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the Biden administration’s internal thinking.

Iohannis is nearing the end of his second five-year term as Romania’s president and had announced in March his intention to run for NATO’s top job. Romania, a NATO member since 2004, borders Ukraine and has played an increasingly prominent role in the alliance during Russia’s large-scale invasion, including hosting a NATO foreign ministers meeting in November 2022.

Iohannis’ withdrawal means Rutte will almost certainly replace Jens Stoltenberg at the top of the alliance when leaders meet in Washington next month to celebrate NATO’s 75th anniversary.

It removed the last real hurdle Rutte might have faced and should allow NATO to show a show of unity and solidarity with war-ravaged Ukraine when the US President Joe Biden and his colleagues will meet in Washington on July 9 and 11 for the summit.

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Rutte’s appointment could be sealed in the coming days by a meeting of NATO ambassadors or by the leaders when they meet in Washington. He would officially start work on October 1.

NATO’s secretaries general are responsible for chairing meetings and overseeing sometimes delicate consultations among the 32 member states to ensure that an organization that operates by consensus can continue to function.

NATO makes all its decisions by consensus, with each of its member states having an effective veto, including on whether they should participate in a joint effort or operation.

For months, Rutte has been the candidate of choice for the majority of NATO allies, including major members such as the United States and Germany.

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